I transitioned from painting with watercolors to painting with dyes. Dyes are a brilliant water-based medium. Some art directors don’t like their brightness, because there are issues when reproducing the colors.
Learning about painting with dyes was where everything changed for me. Initially, dyes are much harder to control. Their staining property causes the color to become embedded on paper almost immediately. Watercolors allow for patience and control in building up a color. With dyes, it is easy to go too dark almost immediately.
I use Dr. Ph Martin’s Dyes, and sometimes Luma Dyes. The Dr. Martin’s dyes have two series of colors. One series is called Radiant Watercolors and the other is called Synchromatic/Transparent Watercolors. They are interchangeable, and the only difference is that the Radiant colors seem a little more “wild.”
In my career, I have been asked to duplicate styles at times. Because I am able to render and to “copy” well, that has not been a problem for me. The image below was an early job that was supposed to resemble a “Rousseau style.” The dye colors are clearly bright on this illustration.
A fair amount of mixing colors is required in order to tame the brilliance of dyes into something more realistic. I use a lot of complementary colors.
The secret to the smoothness of dyes is to prep the area by wetting it first. The staining is far less dramatic that way. I used to teach the 50% rule. The color is 50% lighter if the paper is already damp when the color is applied.
With dyes, I achieved gradations that were similar to airbrushing. Eventually, I even incorporated airbrushing the dyes onto the backgrounds of my watercolor paintings.
When I’ve scanned my airbrush gradations and enlarged them, they’re so imperfect. It’s amazing how many “rogue splatter spots” are in there. The computer gradations are much more perfect, but I miss the feeling I used to have creating those gradations.
I sold all my airbrush equipment. I believe that makeup artists covet old airbrushes. Such is the nature of progress.
It can be very challenging to leave white areas. Those white or “highlight” areas are important to a painting. Sometimes, a masking tool is necessary. When I did watercolors, for straight lines I used drafting tape. Drafting tape is like masking tape, except it is less sticky and doesn’t tear the paper.
The ultimate masking too is friskit. Friskit has been an excellent masking tool for my dye paintings. I’d describe friskit as a plastic film; almost like scotch tape. I lay it over my pencil drawing on the watercolor paper. After burnishing it down, I use a sharp exacto knife to cut the areas I want to mask off. I peel the friskit off the area I plan to paint. Sometimes the friskit doesn’t hold, and there’s a leak, especially if the area gets very wet. Out of necessity, I am adept at fixing mistakes.
Unfortunately, the friskit brand that I use has been discontinued. I still have a large roll of it, and I try not to think about when it runs out. With more and more artists using the computer, many art supplies have been discontinued.
My favorite moment in creating an illustration is when I remove the friskit. It is like opening up a present! I’ve actually let my kids pull it off sometimes to experience the fun. Imagine how it feels seeing a perfect pear revealed, after lifting off the messy tape, paper, and plastic film. I shared some photos of that on the prior post about watercolors.
Another form of masking is achieved with liquid friskit. This masking material is brushed onto the watercolor paper. It is similar to rubber cement, in that it dries like rubber and peels off – it resists the water. It smells really bad and usually has a color indicator so you can see where you’ve painted it. It ruins the brush, so I don’t use it with a good brush. I’ve actually used it sometimes to create the little dots on an apple or for water droplets. I often use a toothpick to apply it. Unfortunately, sometimes the “color indicator” actually stains the watercolor paper. Liquid friskit is sometimes fluorescent orange or yellow.
When I work on my computer to create something – it almost feels like the possibilities are “infinite.” I can work on that image forever. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, there is no history eraser when painting. I like that fact, because it makes painting a finite experience.
With that concept, there is a whole other list I have about how to know when to stop and not overwork a painting. There’s a lot of truth to the statement, “less is more.”
My all time favorite statement is the one I learned when I took an airbrushing course. Here it is:
One of my favorite, portfolio images was the Nestle Crunch. This painting enabled me to contact many art directors. I was very glad that I used my own photo for this painting. I hand-lettered all the words on the label.
One of the issues that often occurred for me was the conflict of using another photographer’s images as reference. I solved this more and more as I became adept at using my own photography. I wish I had the ability back them to utilize Photoshop and digital camera work! I often rushed the employees at the One Hour Photo where I’d impatiently wait to get my photos back.
Illustrating something as perfect as lettering has always been a great challenge for me. Later on, I was able to solve that by using a photographic process that created “rub-down” letters. I used the “rub-downs” as a mask and removed those letters later on.